I went to the launch of the Big Four venues’ Edinburgh Fringe brochure last night. It was held downstairs at the Soho Theatre in London.
Amid the noise and sweat, I bumped into comedian Arthur Smith.
He claimed (you can never be too sure with Arthur) that he had bumped into Gilded Balloon venue owner Karen Koren just a few minutes before and she had asked him to go on stage and introduce the launch, but he was a bit vague about what was actually being launched.
“I don’t want to be over-prepared,” Arthur told me, “so, even though I appear to be going on stage to introduce this event we’re at – whatever it is – I don’t know where I’m performing at the Fringe or when – but I do know I AM on.”
In fact, he is performing for ten days (15h-24th August) at the Pleasance Courtyard.
“I must arrange to do a blog with you,” I said. “I have a blog-jam at the moment. Too many blogs recorded and not yet posted. But you’re worth it.”
“I’m going upstairs to have a fag,” he said. (Note to US readers: a fag = a cigarette)
This seemed like a good idea at the time. Go and stand outside the Soho Theatre and talk to Arthur Smith briefly while he smokes a cigarette. He has a quick fag. I get a quick blog. Arthur is always quotable.
“What are you doing at the Fringe?” I asked.
“I’m reprising my Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen, Volume 2 show from last year,” said Arthur. “Which is a bit lazy in a way: I’ve never done that before. On the other hand, I enjoyed doing it.”
“Did Leonard Cohen enjoy you doing it?” I asked.
“I can’t say too much about that,” said Arthur. “You’ll have to come to the show. I’m sorry, I can’t comment further on this.”
“Have there been lawyers’ letters?”
“A number of them.”
“No. Well, I have had a letter from a lawyer, but he’s a friend of mine. He sent me a birthday card.”
“So, what are you doing at the moment?”
“I’ve just come back from four days rambling with a rock star, a solicitor, two actors and a reprobate. And I’m doing a bit of a tour here and there. I’m around the country doing a one-man show, I’m reprising Leonard Cohen and I’m re-training as a carpenter.”
AAAHHHH! I thought. Here is a jolly light-hearted blog about Arthur Smith rambling around the countryside with a rock star, a solicitor, two actors and a reprobate.
But it was not to be.
At this point, comedy promoter Hils Jago of Amused Moose walked up, heading towards the launch.
The moral is Never stand outside the Soho Theatre with Arthur Smith. People he knows will pass by.
“Come and be in John’s blog,” offered Arthur.
“I’m fine,” said Hils Jago. “I’m quite happy being out of John’s blog.”
“I am thinking of getting people to pay me not to be in it,” I said.
“I’ll give you £5 if it can just last another two minutes,” said Arthur. “I’ve finished me fag.”
“Already?” I asked.
“I only ever smoke half.”
Then comedy writer Barry Cryer walked up. He had escaped from the throng downstairs, possibly to get some air.
“It’s John’s blog,” explained Arthur.
“My increasingly prestigious blog,” I corrected him.
“It’s John’s increasingly prestigious blog,” said Arthur without much enthusiasm, “Barry, I want to ask you a bit about this launch do. They’ve asked me to say something.”
“I don’t know what the score is,” said Barry. “All I know is the volume downstairs is already astonishing.”
“It’s the Big Four,” explained Hils.
“The Free Fringe?” Arthur said, feigning ignorance.
“Well, there are now four free fringes,” I said innocently. “The Free Fringe, the Free Festival, Bob Slayer’s Pay-What-You-Want and the Freestival.”
“I’m going to start one up with Barry Cryer,” said Arthur. “The Old Men in The Meadows free show, every afternoon.”
“We could do an operatic one,” suggested Barry. “The Free Faustival.”
At this point, comedy actress Sally Phillips walked up on her way to a meeting.
To repeat. The moral is Never stand outside the Soho Theatre with Arthur Smith.
Arthur and Sally chatted.
“Are you doing the Gilded Balloon again this year?” I asked Barry.
“Yes,” he said. “Been doing that for eleven years, but Ronnie Golden and I are going up together separately this year. So I‘m performing with Colin Sell from the radio show. We’re going to have a piano on the stage (at the Gilded Balloon).”
“No, an upright. A concert grand would take up the whole of the stage in the Wine Bar.”
“Are you going to be tinkling the ivories yourself?”
“No, no. I can just about sing, but…”
Barry then told me a story from which I will extract the comedian’s name, in case it is misunderstood.
“(Name of comedian),” said Barry, “who I was with the other day – one of my oldest friends – Two friends of his came to see me do a gig with Ronnie Golden and told (name of comedian): We didn’t know Barry could sing! And (name of comedian) said Of course he can. He used to be black!”
“I must tell Brian that,” Barry mused.
“Is Lewis Schaffer here?” I thought.
“Sally – Barry,” Arthur interrupted. “Barry. Do you know Sally?”
“I know and respect her,” said Barry.
“There’s no-one,” said Arthur, “that Barry hasn’t met…”
“With the exception of two Popes,” said Barry.
“Which two?” asked Arthur. “Oh yeah, Constantine and…”
“I want to ask Sally what she thinks,” said Barry. “There’s a spirited debate downstairs. Do you like women being described as actors rather than actresses?”
“I don’t care,” said Sally. “It just seems a bit pointless.”
“Maureen Lipman and I had a real up-and-down argument,” explained Barry. “She said Of course we’re actors! and I said You do the same job in the same way, but do you call a waitress a waiter?”
“Yeah,” said Arthur, “but you don’t call a traffic warden a traffic wardeness.”
“Are comedy women comediennes?” I asked. “Janey Godley calls herself a comedienne and she’s from Glasgow, so it’s not an affectation.”
“I try to avoid…” started Sally.
“I’m with Maureen,” muttered Arthur.
“We did a Comic Relief together years ago…” said Barry.
“Yes,” said Sally.
“…with Mel Smith,” continued Barry. “We were supposed to be comedy writers sitting round a table. You were there and he was supposed to be the producer of EastEnders and we had no lines. He just kept looking at us going Ideas! Ideas! Ideas! It was a running gag. So we had to get someone to keep us going through the afternoon. So Danny Baker was there…”
“Barry,” said Arthur, “Sally’s come to meet someone…”
“It’s like Tourette’s with me,” said Barry. “So I got the mobile out. I said I”ve gotta leave. I’m doing the warm-up for Eminem tonight. So that became the running gag. Baz has to leave. He’s doing the warm-up for Eminem. Mel said: Baz, what do you do before Eminem comes on? And Danny Baker said (in a posh English accent) Are there any motherfuckers here from Northampton?”
Arthur said: “Poor Sally’s just…”
And, at that point, the merry throng broke up.
I lament the loss of a blog about Arthur Smith rambling with a rock star, a solicitor, two actors and a reprobate.
And – Did I mention? – The moral is Never stand outside Soho Theatre with Arthur Smith.